The Bean Tradition: Behind Beans Popularity In Mexican Cuisine

Mexican cuisine is built around beans, as they are in almost every dish served. So, why are beans so popular in Mexico?

Beans are popular in Mexico because they have particular flavors and go well with many spices or flavorings. They were once used as currency in that region, and they store well in warm conditions, such as in Mexico. Beans are cheaper than meat and are a healthy addition to any meal. 

If you’re hungry for Mexican food, you may want to learn more about why beans are so popular in Mexico before digging in. 

These are 11 reasons why beans are so popular in Mexico:

1. Beans Are Essential For Mexican Cuisine.

Take a look at any authentic Mexican dish, and you’ll find beans alongside any entree. Beans are located on the tables of the upper class as well as the lower class, and everyone in between. Street vendors sell everything from beans to tortillas to rice.

Every home has a pot of beans that people take from daily, and every home cook most likely knows how to cook beans. 

2. Many Bean Varieties Inspire Several Flavorful Dishes.

There is an ‘infinite’ variety of beans, all with a unique flavor and texture. Actually, they are almost 40,000 types of beans in the world; however, only a few of those are regularly consume. With that being said, in Mexico, the many different bean types inspire different dishes, such as black beans with a spicy pork dish, or pinto beans served with tacos. There is also the Peruano bean that is more potato-like in flavor and texture, which would be appropriate for fajitas. 

Several flavorful dishes in Mexico are centered around the many varieties of beans found in Mexico. 

3. Beans Were Once Used As Currency.

While not technically “beans” like pinto beans or kidney beans, the ancient Mayan civilization used cocoa beans as currency for items like clothing, tobacco, and other food items to barter with the Aztec culture. Europeans also paid their workers with cacao beans, which is the precursor to chocolate. 

During the time of bartering, they also exchanged regular beans for goods or services. 

4. Some Beans Have a Neutral Taste and Go With Any Flavor.

Have you ever had refried black beans alongside a very spicy dish? The beans were neutral and helped your mouth cool down, didn’t they? Some beans are neutral and pick up any flavor that you add to it, like garlic, onions, different herbs, or spices. Certain beans can also be made into a dessert, like black bean brownies or chickpea cookie dough balls. 

In Mexico, they serve beans at every meal, even breakfast. Beans with eggs is a popular combination, while beans in a fresh salsa go well for lunch or dinner. 

5. Dry Beans Store Well.

With the hot and dry conditions in Mexico, they need food that stores well in that environment, and dried beans fit this requirement. Many homes have a special place in the pantry for storing dry beans. Whether in burlap sacks or plastic bags, there is always a space reserved for beans, which is in stark contrast to the US. 

In the US, pantries are filled with canned beans, canned vegetables, and other items. 

6. Beans Are Cheaper Than Meat.

With Mexico’s minimum wage being quite low compared to other Western countries, many Mexicans don’t have a lot of money to buy food. Protein from animal sources may be superior in many ways; however, it is more expensive than beans, so many people opt to center their meals around beans. Beans are much less expensive and can feed a lot more people for less money, which is why beans are so popular in Mexico.

7. Mexico Has the Perfect Climate to Grow Beans.

Beans grow very well in all regions of Mexico, as they were first cultivated by the Maya and Aztec cultures in ancient times. Beans need warm or hot climates to grow in, and any late frost will kill the plants. While other crops, except maize, don’t do so well in a desert-like environment, beans thrive. So that is why beans are so plentiful and popular in Mexico.

Since they are so plentiful in Mexico, they are a large part of Mexican culture, cuisine, history, and heritage. 

8. Beans Are a Comfort Food.

The warm, earthy texture of properly cooked beans brings back warm and happy memories of mothers and grandmothers feeding the children and cooking with them in the kitchen. 

Beans are cooked in a different way in Mexico than they are in the States. First, they start with the bean – there are several more varieties in Mexico than are available in the US, including heirloom varieties. Next, Mexican cooks don’t pre-soak their beans, and they use salt from the beginning to create a more tender bean.

These methods create comfort food that many people love.

9. Cooking Beans Teaches Patience.

To turn out a perfect pot of beans requires the home cook’s patience because they take at least two hours to cook or longer. Plus, many Mexican cooks use earthen pots for cooking beans because they give the beans more flavor and create a creamier bean.

Cooks who learn patience cooking beans will have the patience for life’s ups and downs and be a ‘better’ person. At least, that is the philosophy taught to young Mexican cooks.

10. Beans Are a Healthy Addition to Many Meals.

Go into any Mexican restaurant today, and you’ll find beans as a side item with many entrees, like burritos and tacos. Beans are the preferred side dish when paired with rice in many homes. 

Beans are also very healthy and add several vitamins and minerals to your diet, such as potassium, magnesium, folate, zinc, and of course, protein.

While each type of bean will have different nutrition values, one cup of boiled pinto beans will contain 15 grams of protein and 15 grams of fiber. It will also contain up to 20% of the recommended daily amount of iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, folate, calcium, zinc, copper, and selenium. 

11. Beans Lend Well to the Slow Food Movement.

Beans take a long time to cook, and most homes have a pot of beans at the back of the stove simmering so that when family members are ready for a meal, the beans are prepared. The nature of slow cooking beans fits well with the slow food movement that originated in Italy in 1986 when McDonald’s put a store in front of the Spanish steps in Rome.

As explained in Tourissimo, Journalist Carlo Petrini got upset about this and got some of his friends together to start a movement–one where they stated that they wanted slow food, not fast food. Three years later, Petrini and 15 representatives from other countries got together in Paris and signed the slow food manifesto that called for rediscovering the flavors of regional cooking and disintegrating the “degrading effects of fast food.”

Today, the slow food movement is about eating locally grown, clean food that takes a long time to prepare and cook.

Mexican cuisine is rich in terms of history and heritage, and also quite delicious! Many Americans enjoy what Mexico cuisine has to offer. In much the same way, many Mexicans long to have what the US has to offer in terms of fast-food restaurants. However, even with many American-based restaurant chains, most Mexicans still cannot get away from their beloved beans–they’re that popular!

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This article was co-authored by our team of writers and editors who share one thing in common: their passion for food and drinks!

JC Franco
Editor | + posts

JC Franco works as a New York-based editor at Foodrinke, driven by his lifelong love for food. His culinary journey began in childhood, as he eagerly assisted his mother with her local sandwich and bakery business, relishing every opportunity to sample her creations. Known among family and friends as an easy eater, JC has a particular affinity for Chinese, Italian, Mexican, and Peruvian cuisine. At Foodrinke, he channels his passion for food into his work, sharing his enthusiasm and knowledge with readers.